After a long season of near-fruitless San Francisco Giants baseball, it’s time to figure out out who deserves this 79-83 result the most.
I’m going off the basic dictionary defintion: “do something or have or show qualities worthy of (reward or punishment).” This is but a humble blog post so the reward and punishment are the same for anyone on the list: you get to (have to) read yourself listed on it.
Deserve can be a loaded word and pop culture has played with that over the years in many meaningful ways. From “Deserve’s got nothin’ to do with it” in the movie Unforgiven to “you don’t get what you deserve, you get what you negotiate” in entertainment industry parlance, there’s a dramatic insistence to characterize cold reality as a greater force than what people feel they’re owed based on their actions. But this is a blog post and I’m here to assign people (and groups) the true value of what they’re owed.
What do I mean by “most deserves” this season? How much does this season’s pitiable result — beyond just the record, let’s look at the whole tone and tenor of the last several months, from the offseason rollercoast to Gabe Kapler’s firing — reflect the involvement of a specific party as either a reward or punishment? Don’t think of it as “Whose fault is it?” Think of it more like, “Who messed around and found out?”
Since this is more of a vibes post instead of a stats post, here’s an example of how it’s going to go: If I rub my cat’s belly for too long, she scratches and bites my hand until it’s a bloody stump. “Yep, I deserved that,” I chuckle as I lose consciousness.
Why did I deserve that? Well, my cat doesn’t like her belly being touched, even though she’s right there flashing it to get my attention. And it’s so soft and fluffy!
Why not most deserving? Most of the readers here know that I deserve far worse. Those who know me think the cat did a public good. Still, I’m not a tyrant. I didn’t kill anybody IRL. I just made several inflammatory statements about Giants Baseball. Or, to stick with the example, I rubbed my cat’s belly for too long.
While there are positives to be found, 79-83 is a step back and with the decision to fire Gabe Kapler, the future is nearly as uncertain as it was when the team hired Farhan Zaidi at the end of 2018. Somebody deserves that result as a punishment or reward.
10. The Fans
If we didn’t have expectations, then we wouldn’t have been disappointed. Every season tricks fans into having hope and so those who stick around all the way until the end of a painful collapse deserve that pain — they stuck around! But I’m one of you, and I deserve this season, too, because I was invested. I was willing to go with the team’s plan to try to mediocre their way to the third Wild Card.
But also, there were a contingent of fans who focused — or continue to focus — on the wrong details. L lamenting platoons as though the use of it is a moral failing by the front office or some demon that must be slayed by the righteous goes beyond creepy at this point. It works! And when it doesn’t, that’s because every baseball players slumps, including the platoon that serves as a composite of a player.
Why not most deserving?
Whenever an organization is in turmoil you must always look to the top. There’s an entire ownership group who sets the budget and the mandates. The Baseball Operations department can’t tank and they can’t run a top 5 major league payroll. That limits the type of franchise the Giants can be as they continue their rebuild.
9. Sean Manaea
The Giants’ frugal ownership compelled Baseball Ops to offer a series of short-term opt-out deals where players who took advantage of their system could improve themselves, opt out and make more money in the next offseason.
Manaea was the one who most took advantage, improving upon a -0.8 bWAR season in 2022 to +0.3 in 2023. Not a spectacular final result for a reclamation project walking away from $15 million in 2024, but two things: his velocity jumped up to 94-95 mph thanks to some mechanical tweaks and remained there all season and he had an ERA split of 5.49 in the first half and 3.43 in the second half.
His rep can plausibly argue to teams that after he fixed his mechanics, it was the Giants who took too long to move him back in as a rotation piece instead of a bulk guy, and that even they knew that because they fired the guy who held him back. Manaea’s last four appearances were starts: 24 IP 18-2 K-BB, 2.25 ERA (3.21 FIP).
Maybe you noticed that this is someone who I think has been rewarded by this season. His success is a byproduct of a system the Giants put in place and might be the only player who benefitted from it the most.
8. Carlos Correa and Aaron Judge (and Shohei Ohtani)
Thank goodness they dodged this hot mess of a franchise, right? While either of them would’ve improved the Giants, the team’s issues would not have resolved or stayed under the surface with their presence.
Judge used the Giants as a stalking horse and so this isn’t some sort of comeuppance situation like Carlos Correa; and, in the case of Carlos Correa, the Giants did their diligence and got punished for it by Correa’s agent, whom everybody hates.
7. Bobby Evans
We’re still dealing his salt the earth player development strategy and the reverberations of the Cueto-Samardzija ticket that appears to have obliterated ownership’s palette for long-term pitcher contracts. If he ever works in baseball again it should be a red flag. Five years later and the team is still feeling some pain from his tenure. Impressive!
Pretty clear that he got the GM job because of continuity and the ability to enact ownership’s orders without any friction.
6. Logan Webb
He rose above the turmoil and placed himself as the face of the franchise for the time being. When the Giants’ scheme didn’t bear fruit in the first month, ownership saw the wisdom in giving him a long-term deal to give fans a sense that one of the few bright spots might actually stick around. He persevered through struggle and his comment “I’m sick of losing” might’ve been the catalyst for a massive upheaval.
Did he deserve to miss the postseason? No, but he deserved the positive comments he got from fans and media after he aired his grievances because he became a leader.
Overcoming adversity is what great baseball players do and he’s just one guy in a huge organization. He had one job and he was practically perfect in it in every way.
5. Gabe Kapler
Well, he’s the manager. The Giants had a bad season. His farewell Instagram post capably listed the various challenges he faced throughout four years in San Francisco, but at the end of the day, if the rule he followed (let the players manage their own clubhouse) brought him to this — 21-34 over the final two months, including 6-22 on the road — of what use was the rule? I think Farhan Zaidi was counting on him to be that extra 2% for rookies once they made it to the big leagues, helping them finish their development there. Didn’t happen and he seemed to have lost the veterans, too.
Players and execs have strengths and weaknesses that combine to create talent with a range. Maybe he’s a better bench coach or a farm director, but after six seasons as a major league manager, this season has to have been a reflection of his limitations.
If 2021 was an example of his strengths, than 2023 was an example of his weaknesses. He is Ron Burgandy and a teleprompter: he will stick to the script. The script, in this case, is based on the talent pool. It’s probably controversial to say this, but after last year’s 18-8 September, there’s a reasonable argument to be made that he had more talent last year — or, at least, players who played better.
4. Farhan Zaidi
His roster. His plan. His results. We saw what he could do with someone else’s core in 2021, but here we are in 2023 and he hasn’t developed his own core of players. Instead, it’s a core of sound sabermetric principles. Hopefully, those principles have evolved in the decade since he first mentioned them, and hopefully, they number well beyond swing decisions.
This should’ve been the season where we saw it start to come together. He got Patrick Bailey and Kyle Harrison up and making you think something good was happening, but the rest of the roster atrophied. That’s not “start to come together,” that’s one step forward, two steps back. The lack of a big deadline move hurt, too. Maybe he really needed this flop of a season to light a fire under him to think bigger, but also simpler. Could the key to keeping his job (beyond getting a solid manager in there as Kapler’s replacement) simply be making a trade for a known quantity?
I’m willing to evolve my thinking on the Giants being able to lure top of the market free agent hitters in their prime because the Correa move signalled something different about the team in that regard. Too, extending Logan Webb, as much as I though it a panic move at the time (a way to quell fans’ fears after a 6-13 start), demonstrated some procedural flexibility in his management style.
The Giants have had some success using the opener and developing or repairing pitchers. They have demonstrated the ability to take good players and make them great. But I still go back to budget and mandate. Without a core, he has to overspend for spare parts and hope his system makes the whole greater than those parts. Is he without a core in part because of financial limitations hindering scouting and development? Limitations are a part of every job, so this isn’t to give him a free pass, but budget and mandate are those two things out of his control. He didn’t deserve the Correa fiasco and wouldn’t it have been nice to regroup by signing Dansby Swanson or Cody Bellinger plus all the other guys he got?
He signalled a willingness to change himself and he needs to now that he’s seen where the limitations of the budget converge with the limitations of his process. Now, if that personal change is only lip service to get through a press conference, maybe he deserves his imminent firing.
3. The Bay Area Media
That includes McCovey Chronicles!
It makes the writing, the tweeting, the podcasting a little better by way of sharper when things are going wrong. The basic level of that is there are things to pick apart. I think the better level of commentary is when we seek to understand why.
But also, look at that picture above. Susan Slusser’s been eating on this Giants beat. She was first with the Kapler firing, she’s taken an assignment she seems to have loathed from the outset and turned it into a delicious meal where she can roast the team with her coverage. When was the last time this group got a bunch of meaty stories while the team was trying to compete rather than just playing out the string of a championship era? We all deserved this more interesting version of the team, even when they sucked.
“Time to write about the losers” isn’t an inspiring call to action every day. Eventually, readers stop being interested in exploring why a team is struggling and want to know how to make the bad baseball stop.
2. Greg Johnson
He’s now the public face of the ownership group and he’s advocating for people who are antithetical to the Bay Area and Giants fans. Obviously, his father, whose money goes to anti-democratic politicians and policies; but also, shareholders and real estate developers.
The Giants have built a neighborhood around the ballpark and believe that a compromised baseball product won’t compromise that neighborhood, for some reason. As he told Susan Slusser back in August:
Slusser: The payroll this year is not among MLB’s top payrolls. Would you go over the luxury cap limits for the right potential fit?
Johnson: We try to be smart about what we’re doing, and we recognize the importance for fans to have that kind of draw for the ballpark, all of that gets balanced in but it just depends on the situation and where we are. I don’t think we’d ever see ourselves massively exceeding that level in the luxury tax.
Slusser: The Mission Bay project is starting to come together, but it doesn’t seem to have the ballpark village feel that exists with some ballpark developments, like Atlanta. Do you see any more fan-friendly additions?
Johnson: Atlanta built this thing out in the middle of nowhere with a massive amount of land, and it’s a totally different deal than what we’re doing in the market. What we’re trying to do is create a neighborhood, a vibrant neighborhood that’s going to benefit the ballpark, but it’s not going to be a ballpark neighborhood necessarily.
Slusser: How much impact will the project have on what you can do financially from a baseball perspective?
Johnson: I mean, it helps. There’s no question. How much it helps remains to be seen. But if everything goes right, it may add a good second baseman in a year. [...] Our goal is to break even every year, so the more revenue we can take in goes straight into payroll.
There’s not a lot of baseball in the MLB control person, but that’s par for the course in the league. These teams are presented to fans as a public good but used by their group as a slush fund. Guaranteed returns are part of that break even calculation and if the product on the field suffers for it, who cares? You got your return. And you can do whatever you want with that return, like fund human misery throughout the country and beyond.
He probably should be number one. He’s a powerful person who holds sway and nobody likes an owner who doesn’t want to win. Nothing Greg Johnson has said or done demonstrates a willingness to win and we don’t have to like the person whose sole responsibility is to shareholders. BUT! Because he doesn’t care about winning and, therefore, what people think of him (in part because fans can’t fire him and he is more successful than most of the people alive today), he can’t deserve this season the most because it won’t hurt him at all. So...
1. Larry Baer
“Fans are like, ‘OK, we get it, we understand now.’ When they start seeing [Ross] Stripling pitching and Sean Manaea pitching and [Michael] Conforto, Taylor Rogers, it’s like, ‘OK, I get it, you did a lot of moves that added up.’ The lightbulb went on, but the lightbulb didn’t go on immediately. So it’s been a little bit of a lag effect.”
You lout. You fool.
The public face of ownership who had to step away because of a legitimate scandal gave way to the son of the man whose money funds some of the most hateful “political” groups of our time, a situation that has compelled at least two public apologies but no change in behavior. The Giants have alienated themselves from their fanbase.
Andrew Baggarly and Keri Crowley have talked about fans’ fraying connection to the team and the conversation always focuses on the on-field product provided by Zaidi & Kapler. But this alienation started long before that and, like I said thousands of words ago, it started at the top.
John Shea having a meltdown over platoons as a proxy for season ticketholders serves as a beautiful distraction from the people who have created their frustrations. Farhan Zaidi wasn’t out there saying, “Everyone is stupid except me” — Larry Baer was. He was selling ownership’s compromised product to you as though it was a top tier product. Greg Johnson prevaricates. Larry Baer fabricates. He can’t stop embarrassing himself and the franchise.
He won’t let us ignore him, so the least we can do is hang everything that’s gone wrong with the Giants on him. It’s the least he deserves. We can’t fire owners, but the owners can. Who knows? Maybe the Giants will get sick of being embarrassed by him like they did their manager and bring in someone else to be a better face for ownership.